Teachers Take Charge of Arts Assessment
How do you assess music, drama, or painting? That's the kind of question that vexes policymakers (at least those who stop to think about it) and state departments of education. Especially in an age where federal Race to the Top grant money and waivers from the restrictive No Child Left Behind law depend on teacher evaluation systems derived from student performance (or “performance”), figuring out what to do with the arts is a constant puzzle.
Dana Goldstein has an interesting article in Slate looking at the approach taken for arts and physical education in South Carolina that favors performance assessment mixed with multiple choice questions about terminology. Later, Goldstein followed up on this in her blog with a link to an article describing the largely teacher-developed portfolio assessment system that's been piloted in Memphis with an eye toward statewide expansion.
Developing the portfolios was in part a self-defense response by arts teachers to state rules that would otherwise tie their evaluations to schoolwide math and reading scores. That kind of system should be ridiculous on its face, but it's what states are too often left with if they're going to comply with the Obama administration's insistence on “outcomes-based” teacher evaluation. Unsatisfied with that, Memphis area arts teachers put together a rubric-based, identity-blind assessment process that has caught the attention of the state's department of education.
One Tennessee D.O.E. official, Aneesh Sohoni (who's a U of M graduate and former TFA corps member in the Twin Cities), praised the work done by these teachers. He's quoted as saying, “We're starting to get attention around the fine arts community across the country. It will be exciting to see if this model can be used beyond Tennessee.”
I'd take it one step further. Portfolio-based assessment has been a preferred (if often hypothetical) approach for better evaluating students, at least among many educators. It doesn't get much airtime relative to fill-in-the-bubble tests that are cheaper for states to administer, but it's something that has the potential to be much more helpful as a tool. The main takeaway from all of this is that policymakers should do a better job trusting educators to play a role in designing their own evaluation systems, and progressives should push them to do so.